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Trevor Neilson

Trevor Neilson

Posted: January 23, 2010 11:09 AM

Did a Technology Failure Limit the Impact of the 'Hope For Haiti' Telethon?

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The unbelievable generosity, talent and commitment of America's
entertainment industry was on full display at Friday's Hope For Haiti
telethon. With powerful words and beautiful voices America's most
famous people came together to raise money for one of the world's most
urgent crises.



My 5 year old daughter was allowed to watch the performances (sent to
her playroom during some of the difficult news reports) and after
watching Shakira's beautiful version of the Pretenders "I'll Stand by
You" she quietly went to her room, gathered two dollars and
ninety-eight cents from her piggybank, and asked me to call and send
it to "the kids in Haiti who need it."



Tears welled in my eyes. I was incredibly proud of her, talked to her
about my work in Haiti, and told her I would also make a donation. We
called 1-877-99-HAITI so that she and I could make the donation
together.



It was busy -- surely that was a good sign!



So we called back ten minutes later. Still busy.



And again. Still busy.



My daughter and I tried ten times, and every time the line was busy.



I checked Twitter and searched "busy signal, Haiti" and it seemed
hundreds -- if not thousands -- of people were having the same problem.
Others were complaining that the donation website was not working, and
others said that they were not receiving confirmations when they
tried to "text to give."



We had been watching the west coast broadcast on CNN at 5:00 pm PST
and it was time for her to go to bed. After some teeth brushing and
bed time stories I sat back down on the couch, turned the west coast
broadcast on at 8:00 pm PST and tried to call again.



8:37...busy.



8:42...busy.



8:47...busy.



9:11...busy.



9:14...busy.



Finally I was able to make a donation online.



Now I was very concerned. This was the single biggest opportunity to
raise money for Haiti that the world had ever seen. Money raised
equals lives saved.



I checked Twitter again and saw this post from online strategist Tracy
Russo
in which
she chronicled the concern of technology experts as the problem
unfolded:



"Joe Rospars, the Obama campaign New Media Director tweeted it took
him 2 hours to make a successful online donation. April Pederson of
Democracy in Action, a leading provider of non-profit online services,
tweeted she was feeling, "helpless" that there was nothing she could
do to fix the site. Sam Graham Felson, who has been working with
organizations that would benefit from the telethon including Partners
in Health and the Red Cross begged his followers to contact the
organizers and have them redirect the URL to PIH.org or
theRedCross.org when they couldn't access hopeforhaitinow.org. Via
e-mails, IMs and tweets the political web community watched, in agony,
as the hours ticked by and millions of dollars in donations that might
have been made online were, as Erin Hill of ActBlue put it, "left on
the table".



There is no doubt that millions of people watched Friday's broadcast.
George Clooney, the event producers, those who appeared on the show
and the networks who participated used every tool they had to help the
Haitian people. They knew that their visibility would raise money,
and that money would save lives.



Tragically, it appears that whoever built the technology that was
supposed to capture the attention they created and channel it in to
donations didn't do their job. No one will ever know how much money
wasn't donated as a result.



For the sake of those suffering in Haiti let us hope that despite
these problems the telethon still raised an enormous of money for
those who so desperately need it.

 

Follow Trevor Neilson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/trevor_neilson